Radiotherapy

The do’s and dont’s of rads: Ten pointers

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 03 October 2007

As you embark upon radiotherapy, pop the kettle on, make a nice cup of (green) tea and take a look at our list of do’s and don’t’s for radiotherapy:

  1. During the course of your treatment you may want to change from an underwire bra to a non-wire bra, no bra or sports bra. This is to prevent any friction from the wire causing you discomfort. If you think you’ll change to a different style of bra then it is worth shopping for the bras before treatment starts – once treatment begins it can get tiring and you may not feel up to shopping. And avoid white bras – the Therapeutic Radiographers sometimes use marker pens on your chest during the session for measurements and then may mark your bra.
  2. Stock up on some good moisturiser for the affected area. Sara was recommended E45 but there are loads of really good creams you could use such as Aveeno or MooGoo. You can also use a 99% Aloe Vera gel concurrently with this which really helps with healing but this is up to you. Put moisturiser (and the gel if you want to) on the zapping area morning and night (ask the Therapeutic Radiographers to point out the zapping area from day one because the skin doesn’t change colour until you are a week or so into the treatment and you can’t see where you have been zapped). Do this from a few days (or even weeks) before you start rads, every day throughout, and after rads until your skin has recovered sufficiently. Three months after Sara completed radiotherapy, her skin was still really dry, sore and itchy so she continued to apply moisturiser every day. During rads when the skin starts to get a bit sore between moisturiser applications, you can apply moisturiser. Sometimes the affected area can become warm to touch so you can keep the moisturiser in the fridge to make it even cooler.
  3. Use gentle soaps in the bath and shower. Consider paraben free or organic ranges if you want to use something particularly gentle and free of chemicals. Do not scrub the treatment area.
  4. After showering and bathing pat dry your skin in the zapping zone. This is to prevent friction causing your skin to get sore.
  5. You can’t shave, wax or use hair removal creams on the armpit which is being zapped whilst you are going through the treatment. So remember to de-fuzz before your first appointment.
  6. Radiotherapy can cause you to feel tired. The extent of tiredness is different for everyone. Sara was fine for the first half of her treatment, then started to feel tired and for the last few treatment days she felt completely knocked out. Be prepared for the tiredness to hit. Try to conserve energy where possible. A little bit of gentle exercise and ensuring you drink enough water every day helps with the tiredness.
  7. Be prepared for your skin to get redder and sorer in the couple of weeks after radiotherapy, and for your tiredness to continue for a few weeks. This doesn’t happen to everyone but is better to be prepared if it does. Sara’s Therapeutic Radiographers said that her tiredness and soreness would peak two weeks after treatment ended and then start to improve. They were right although after a number of months she still had itchy red skin and tiredness.
  8. If your skin gets very sore, it’s important to speak to the Radiotherapy Treatment Review team for advice and management as they have everything you’d need to look after you.
  9. ALWAYS ask medical advice if your skin gets really sore, or something just doesn’t feel right.
  10. You may feel OK to drive yourself to and from radiotherapy appointments but the tiredness does kick in after a week or so and you may want to ask friends or family members for help. Plus, the company to and from the appointments is a great distraction.

HELPFUL RESOURCES AND MORE INFORMATION

Super helpful information is on the Breast Cancer Now website and Cancer Research UK website.

Respire.org – a website for patients who have been referred for radiotherapy to the breast or chest wall following a breast cancer diagnosis. In particular, the aim of the resources is to help patients who have been diagnosed with cancer in their breast for whom it may be beneficial to learn how to hold their breath for a short time during radiotherapy.

Action Radiotherapy – this is a charity dedicated to improving radiotherapy treatment, the aim of which is to support radiotherapy research and development and support radiotherapy professionals by providing online tools to enhance collaboration. Their website provides so informative resources for those going through radiotherapy.

This page was last reviewed in August 2021 by Naman Julka-Anderson, Senior Therapeutic Radiographer (Macmillan Treatment Review Radiographer) and member of Action Radiotherapy.

The information and content provided on this page is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.

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Claire diagnosed in 2016
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